The top of the Ivy League volleyball standings looks eerily similar to last season.
Almost exactly one year ago, Yale effectively handed Cornell sole possession of the Ancient Eight crown after dropping a late season game to Brown. With the Big Red and the Bulldogs once again among the class of the league, and now tied for first, the Elis hope these final four games do not end in the same result as 2005.
“I believe we have to win all of the four [remaining] matches to win the Ivy League,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “I believe the winner of the league will only have two losses.”
Yale, Cornell and Princeton all have two Ancient Eight losses coming into this weekend.
The Bulldogs (13-6, 8-2 Ivy) will have the opportunity to change that when they face Princeton (17-2, 7-2) on Friday night in New Jersey. Yale will then head to Philadelphia for a match against a surging Penn team. The Quakers (9-11, 4-5) ended their October campaign with two big wins over Dartmouth and Harvard.
After two consecutive losses, to Princeton and Cornell, the Elis returned to their early season play after putting on a dominant performance against Columbia last weekend.
“We pulled together [against Columbia] and came out with the fight and intensity we didn’t have before,” outside hitter Kali Nelson ’08 said.
The Bulldogs have put that all aside and the focus, at least for the moment, is squarely on the Tigers, who handed Yale its first league loss, 3-1, just two weeks ago in New Haven. The Elis will once again have to contend with the multitalented Lindsay Ensign, who gave an impressive performance with 25 kills on .611 accuracy when the Tigers visited in October. She enters this match leading the Ivy League in hitting percentage and kills per game.
In film sessions this week, the Bulldogs have been watching Ensign and equally prominent outside hitter Henritze Parker, specifically in their own match against Princeton.
“When you go back and watch, it’s just a few simple mistakes,” captain and libero Anja Perlebach ’07 said. “We really feel like we were right there with them.”
Coach Appleman said that Princeton runs a simple offense, but that the Tigers are extremely good at it. She also recognizes the strong play of Ensign and others, all of whom the Bulldogs will have to contend with on the road.
Yale will then go on to face Penn the following afternoon, a team the Elis handled, 3-0, in the first meeting. Quakers setter Linda Zhang is sixth in the league in assists per game and leads a solid squad notorious for its size and blocking abilities.
“Passing and defense will help us get through this weekend,” Appleman said. “We’ve been doing things in practice to concentrate on Yale volleyball.”
The first match against Penn this season saw Yale getting off to terrible starts in all three games — a problem the team has been trying to correct for much of the year.
“All week we’ve been working on getting off to a good start,” Perlebach said. “We’ve been playing shorter games in practice to make sure we focus on starting off better.”
No one has to spell out the importance of every remaining game for the Elis. They know four wins gives them at least a share of the championship and a loss probably leaves them with nothing. It is pressure situations like these where the best truly rise to the top.